An In-Depth Examination of the American Right

Reply Wed 14 Jul, 2010 07:44 am

The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right
by David Neiwert, PoliPoint Press, 266 pages, $16.95
David Neiwert's The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right arrives in stores as if conjured up by the zeitgeist. Since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, a culture of paranoia has hijacked the conservative movement. Examples of the hysterical style abound: Glenn Beck portraying Obama pouring gasoline on the American people; Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota calling for "an orderly revolution" against the Democrats; a right-wing conspiracy nut killing three Pittsburgh policemen because of unfounded fears that the government was going to take away his guns. It seems among all segments of the conservative movement -- from the vanguard on the air, to the leaders in the Capitol, to the rank-and-file on the ground -- the mood is apocalypse now.

The thread that connects them is the subject of Neiwert's compelling new book. A journalist based in Seattle, Neiwert has for years been doing yeoman's work reporting on the extreme right. On his personal blog, Orcinus, as well as on Crooks and Liars, where he is managing editor, Neiwert has trained his focus on the extremist ideas of the right-wing fringe and the echo chamber that launders them for mainstream consumption.

Neiwert's paramount concern is the transformation of terrible thought to murderous deed. Richard Poplawski, the Pittsburgh man who killed those policemen last month, is the textbook example of the type Neiwert worries about. Poplawski liked to publish posts on Stormfront, the largest white-supremacist online forum, and visit Infowars, a Web site run by right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones. Poplawski believed that the Obama administration was out to get his guns, a baseless myth that nonetheless gets repeated again and again on conservative outlets -- and that, in his case, apparently inspired a violent spree.

But Neiwert argues that these tall tales are not confined to (or spread by) the fringe. "Transmitters" like Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing media figures circulate such conspiracy theories to a wider audience. The result is a feedback loop of paranoia and hysteria, as the transmitters "inject extremist ideas into the mainstream and … bring the two sectors closer together."

He offers the example of the Patriot movement, which thrived in the Northwest in the 1990s. According to Neiwert, the movement "provided most of the early audience for The Clinton Chronicles," a conspiracy documentary about Bill Clinton's alleged involvement in the death of his aide Vincent Foster as well as drug-running and murder in Arkansas. Although easily debunked, the wild accusations bounced around in the right's outer reaches long enough "that the claims obtained currency in the mainstream." That symbiotic relationship between shadowy fringe and conservative mainstream has only deepened in recent years, thanks to the rise of the Internet, a more entrenched right-wing echo chamber, and an even more rigidly ideological GOP caucus.

The Eliminationists attempts a grand theory of the right-wing mentality. "What motivates this kind of talk and behavior is called eliminationism: a politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination," he writes. Calling eliminationism "a signature trait of fascism," Neiwert offers a deft and scrupulous synthesis of academic research on fascism, which has been drained of its meaning from both liberal overuse (as Neiwert admits) and conservative up-is-downism.

Neiwert's commentary is depressingly timely. While paranoid and anti-intellectual rhetoric has long defined conservative media, the latest strain seems to be louder, meaner, and more pervasive. Where once the kind of hate talk Neiwert describes was confined to the fringes, it's now part of daily programming at Fox News. To a distressing extent, much of mainstream right-wing culture and politics is predicated on hatred and exclusion. Hardly a day goes by that an epithet isn't hurled against Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and other bêtes noire in conservative media and the right-wing blogosphere. And let's not forget the greatest enemy of all: liberals. More than low taxes, traditional values, or a hawkish foreign policy, hatred of liberals (as opposed to mere disagreement) is the one true unifier among conservatives. Neiwert sums up the right-wing mentality by citing a line from Benito Mussolini to a left-wing critic: "The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo." For many conservatives, the goal isn't so much to enact conservative policies as it is to vanquish the liberals in their midst.

At a brisk 266 pages (including notes), The Eliminationists serves as a useful primer on the violent and doomsday strain of American conservatism. At times, Neiwert's slim book can barely sustain its ambitious scope. More detailed dispatches from the ground from his experiences as a reporter would also have been welcome. The peeks at a subterranean and yet potentially dangerous world make up some of the book's most compelling passages.

But it's hard to deny the fundamental truth of Neiwert's argument. The recent departure of Republican Sen. Arlen Spector for the Democratic Party -- and the response by the right's standard bearers -- is only the latest illustration of Neiwert's thesis. As the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys cement their status as the party's de facto leaders, the GOP has become increasingly radicalized, alienating moderate Republicans like the Pennsylvania senator. Progressives have looked upon the radicalization of the right as a good thing for the left's political prospects -- the farther right the Republicans go, the smaller their tent becomes. But as Paul Krugman recently wrote, "In the long run, this is not good for American democracy -- we really do need two major parties in competition."

Neiwert also bemoans the radicalization of the Republicans and the refulgence of the fringe. He writes that the poisonous rhetoric that now dominates the right represents the "death of discourse itself" -- and possibly presages the coming of a new American berserk. Bookending The Eliminationists is the story of Jim Adkisson, a Knoxville man who killed two and wounded seven in a July 2008 shooting at a Unitarian Church. In a manifesto released in February, he wrote, "Know this if nothing else: This was a hate crime. I hate the damn left-wing liberals. … Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book."

The scariest part of all this? We are just a few months into the Obama presidency. The ugliness has just begun. Neiwert's book should serve as a wake-up call not just for progressives and moderates but also for conservatives who still seek to participate in the American pluralist experiment. Some may want to brush off the Adkissons and Poplawskis as deranged aberrations, but that would be a dangerous temptation. As The Eliminationists persuasively argues, they are less anomalies than inevitabilities: the terrifying end products of a conservative movement that has nothing left to offer but the conspiratorial murmur and the rabble-rousing howl.
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Reply Wed 14 Jul, 2010 12:48 pm
The Republicans have a set of dirty little (actually not so little) secrets they don't what you to know -- and certainly don't want you to think about when you go to the polls in November.

And the fact is that some of those secrets could provide Democrats with silver bullets this fall. But first let's recall the context.

Over the course of eight short years -- between 2000 and 2008 -- the Republicans methodically executed their plan to transform American society. They systematically transferred wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest two percent of Americans -- slashing taxes for the wealthy. They eviscerated the rules that held Wall Street, Big Oil and private insurance companies accountable to the public. They allowed and encouraged the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks that ultimately collapsed the economy and cost eight million Americans their jobs. They ignored exploding health care costs, tried to privatize Social Security, gave the drug companies open season to gouge American consumers and presided over a decline in real incomes averaging $2,000 per family. They entangled America in an enormously costly, unnecessary war in Iraq, pursued a directionless policy that left Afghanistan to fester, and sullied America's good name throughout the world.

Their economic policy of cutting taxes for the wealthy and deregulating big Corporations failed to create jobs. In fact, over his eight year term, George Bush's administration created exactly zero net private sector jobs. They inherited a Federal budget with surpluses as far as the eye could see and rolled up more debt than all of the previous Presidents in the over 200 years of American history. And in the end they left the economy in collapse.

This was not a disaster that could be remedied overnight. By taking bold action at the beginning of his administration, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress prevented the financial crisis from morphing into a Great Depression -- but the Republicans, some Democrats, and the powerful special interests have done everything they can to throw sand into the gears of change. Most importantly, they have stood in the way of providing enough economic stimulus to launch a robust, widespread economic recovery.

But notwithstanding Republican opposition, Obama, the Democrats and their progressive allies have -- after a century of trying -- finally passed health care reform allowing America to end its status as the only industrialized nation that did not provide health care as a right. They are on the brink of reining in the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks. And they have set the stage for massive long-term investments in economic growth and clean energy.

But it has been hard to pull the car out of the deep economic ditch and Americans are angry at the slow pace of economic recovery -- and also at the special interests that profited from their economic pain.

So the Republicans now have the audacity to argue that President Obama and the Democrats are somehow responsible for the hardships that they themselves created. In effect they want the election to be a referendum on whether the Democrats have mopped and swept fast enough cleaning up the mess that they created.

They will do everything they can to prevent America from focusing on the real choice before them in the fall elections -- a choice between going backward to the failed policies of the past that caused this catastrophe and a new direction that will create sustainable, long-term, bottom-up, widely shared economic growth. The real question before the country is whether it is willing to hand over the keys to the economy once again to the same gang that just caused the most serious economic pile up in 60 years.

That's where the dirty little secrets come in. It turns out that the leaders of the Republican Party have learned nothing from the reckless escapade that caused so much economic pain, and came perilously close to inflicting mortal wounds on the American economy.

They still actually believe -- despite what we have all just experienced -- that by "freeing" big oil, the insurance companies and Wall Street banks of the "burdens" of government accountability, that the plutocrats and the "invisible hand" of the market will lead American into the promised land of economic prosperity.

Some of the things they believe are not only dangerous to the economy, luckily they are also politically radioactive. And quite remarkably, many key Republicans are actually willing to say them out loud. Here are a few:

Meet Congressman Paul Ryan. Ryan is the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. If the Republicans once again take control of the House, he will be the Chair of the Budget Committee. Ryan believes -- and says out loud -- that Medicare, one of the most popular Federal programs in history, should be abolished and replaced with vouchers for private insurance. Let's recall that one of the ways Republicans stirred up opposition to health insurance reform was by falsely accusing Democrats of wanting to cut Medicare. They convinced some unwitting seniors that "Government" should keep its hands off Medicare -- which is, of course, a "Government" program. Democrats need to make it crystal clear in this campaign that Republicans -- who opposed Medicare from its inception -- actually want to abolish the program and hand over control of health care for America's seniors to the same private insurance companies responsible for driving up rates three times faster than wages while their profits have exploded.
Congressman John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, has endorsed another Ryan proposal to raise the retirement age of Social Security to 70 years old -- a proposal that might go over fine with a guy like Boehner who makes speeches for a living. But it won't be very popular at all with someone who has laid bricks, or run an earth mover, or waited tables for forty-five years.
The whole Republican crew wants to resurrect the failed Bush proposal to "privatize" Social Security. The defeat of Bush's privatization plan was the turning point in the Bush Presidency. It was all downhill from there. Yet -- whether it's to pad the investment accounts of their friends on Wall Street or because they are "private markets uber alles true believers" -- the Republicans want to try it again. Only this time retirees won't have to work very hard to imagine what it would have been like if their Social Security checks had plummeted in value the way their 401K's did when the market collapsed just two years ago.
The Republicans want to weaken and repeal the new law to rein in the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks. Most Republicans and Democrats voted to bail out the big banks to prevent a 1930's style market collapse. The difference is that Democrats supported legislation to rein in their recklessness -- that had cost 8 million Americans their jobs -- and assure that a bailout was never allowed to happen again. But with very few exceptions, the Republicans voted to a person against holding Wall Street accountable. Given a chance, they plan to team up with their pals on Wall Street to free them to return to their reckless ways at will. In fact, they told the titans of Wall Street as much in fundraising meetings, where those "masters of the Universe" were asked to ante up. Republicans claim to oppose more Wall Street bailouts, but they refuse to support legislation that would prevent one in the future and hold Wall Street accountable. That -- coupled with those big contributions from Wall Street -- is a position that is very difficult for average voters to swallow. In fact, the polling says it's down right toxic.
Republicans have consistently voted against extending unemployment benefits to workers who have been laid off because of Bush-era policies and the recklessness of Wall Street. Remember, people who get unemployment benefits -- by definition -- are looking for jobs that the economy doesn't provide. In addition, many Republicans actually believe that the best way to spur employment is to lower the minimum wage.
Finally, meet Congressman Joe Barton. If the Republicans win back control of Congress, he would once again most likely serve as the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee -- the Committee that oversees the oil industry. Congressman Barton has never met an oil company he doesn't like. In fact, he's the guy who actually apologized to BP when they were forced by the Obama Administration to take economic responsibility for the disastrous Gulf oil spill. As a political matter, that's like apologizing to Jack the Ripper.
These are politically radioactive positions that do, in fact, define the core of Republican policy if they were once again to control the gavel in either House of Congress.

We hear a lot about how Democrats have to "localize" the elections to have a chance of victory in November. And it is true that people vote for people in elections -- and the quality of Democratic candidates will give them a major edge in many races. So while it is a good idea to "personalize" the races for Congress, the last thing Democrats should do is to "localize" them, because the party that nationalizes a midterm -- and dominates the national dialogue -- almost always comes out ahead.

Instead, Democrats need to take the offensive and dominate the national conversation by talking about what the Republicans actually believe and what they would do if they win in November. Voters must be offered a stark choice between Democratic and Republican policies in the fall. If they are, "Conventional Wisdom" that keeps predicting a Democratic disaster will be proven wrong, the same way it was when it predicted that America would never elect a tall, skinny African American guy named Barack Obama.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.

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